The offseason can feel like an eternity for football fans, but with the 2015 NFL season now only a few weeks away, anticipation is beginning to mount, especially for those who enjoy participating in fantasy football leagues.
While there is no question that things can still change over the final couple weeks of the preseason and more injuries can occur, most teams seem to have a handle on what they plan to do offensively in 2015 and who they prefer to feature. Because of that, there will be hundreds of thousands—and perhaps even millions—of fantasy drafts between now and the start of the season.
With the regular season now very much on the horizon, here is a list of rankings for every skill position, along with suggestions for which players to target in your draft.
The quarterback position is stacked entering the 2015 regular season, which is why waiting until the mid-to-late rounds before taking one is probably the best strategy.
The likes of Andrew Luck, Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees are pretty much guaranteed to put up big numbers, provided they remain healthy, but taking them means sacrificing quality at other positions with far less depth.
One signal-caller worth targeting once most of the other owners in your league have taken their starter is Philip Rivers of the San Diego Chargers. Although he fell off down the stretch in 2014 due largely to a back injury, Rivers has all the makings of a steal in 2015.
The veteran gunslinger threw for nearly 4,300 yards and 31 touchdowns last season one year after a 32-touchdown campaign.
Rivers is unheralded in fantasy terms despite his consistency, and that is something that puzzles Evan Silva of Rotoworld:
While some might argue that Rivers is due for a downturn after signing a massive contract extension, he comes off as the type of player who wants to prove he is worth the money San Diego gave him. Also, he’ll have to come up huge in 2015 in order to ensure the Chargers remain in contention.
He should have an improved running game powered by rookie Melvin Gordon, which will open up more when it comes to the passing game. There is no question that tight end Antonio Gates being absent for the first four games due to a suspension will hurt; however, he still has some talented weapons in wide receivers Keenan Allen, Malcom Floyd and Stevie Johnson.
Rivers won’t put up the same gaudy statistics that the elite fantasy quarterbacks will, but he’ll do more than enough to keep you competitive while your early-round running backs and wide receivers put you over the top.
The biggest difference between being a run-of-the-mill playoff team and winning it all in fantasy is often hitting home runs on No. 2 and reserve running backs. There are very few top-flight players at the position, so finding one outside the first couple rounds is akin to mining gold.
When it comes to running backs who are rated by most outside the top 10 or top 15 at the position, Oakland Raiders speedster Latavius Murray stands out above the rest.
The third-year back got an opportunity to start three games down the stretch last season, and he certainly impressed. The former Central Florida star finished 2014 with over 500 total yards, two touchdowns and a yards-per-carry average of 5.2 yards. That was good enough to make him Oakland’s unquestioned starter.
With young quarterback Derek Carr still developing, one can only assume that the Raiders will lean heavily on the running game. In part because of that, NFL analyst Phil Simms views Murray as a potential breakout star, according to Scout Fantasy:
Not only is Murray skilled, but he also figures to be a bell-cow back who won’t have to share many carries. As pointed out by Steve Corkran of RaiderBeat.com, Oakland isn’t really capable of moving the ball on the ground unless Murray is toting the rock:
Everything points toward Murray getting as many carries as he can handle, and that is a formula for fantasy success, especially when the player is as talented as Murray.
It likely won’t cost much more than a fourth-round pick to land Murray in your league, but he undoubtedly has the ability and is in a situation capable of yielding second-round value in 2015.
The NFL has become a passing league, which has enabled wide receivers to put up some big numbers in recent years. While the receiver crop is very impressive in fantasy terms entering 2015, some of that top-level depth is already starting to drop.
Both Carolina Panthers wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin and Green Bay Packers wideout Jordy Nelson are out for the season, which means fantasy owners will have to expand their target a bit in order to nab at least three solid players at the position.
While Nelson going down is obviously awful for the Pack and those who may own him in dynasty leagues, it opens the door for second-year player Davante Adams to take a big step forward.
The 2014 second-round selection showed impressive flashes as the No. 3 receiver during his rookie season with 38 grabs for 446 yards and three touchdowns. With Nelson now out of the picture, he will almost certainly be Green Bay’s No. 2 pass-catcher opposite Randall Cobb.
Because of that, NFL.com’s Michael Fabiano believes the former Fresno State standout’s fantasy value has taken a significant leap:
The Packers have one of the most prolific passing offenses in football thanks to the presence of Rodgers under center, and Adams will reap the benefits of that as he sees the field even more in 2015.
Even before Nelson went down, Tom Pelissero of USA Today was hugely impressed by what he saw out of Adams during the Packers training camp:
The same can be said for Packers head coach Mike McCarthy, per the team’s official Twitter account:
Anyone stepping into Nelson’s role would have received a massive boost in fantasy value, but it is even bigger with regard to Adams since he also happens to be a supremely talented pass-catcher.
The Packers aren’t going to stop throwing the ball at will just because Nelson is out, and that means Adams is in line to put up some monster numbers as a WR2 in fantasy terms at the very least.
When it comes to tight ends, there isn’t much point in taking one early unless Rob Gronkowski of the New England Patriots, Carolina Panthers star Greg Olsen or Jimmy Graham of the Seattle Seahawks is available. Other than that, the position is lacking in terms of elite options.
Outside of the top three it can be argued that the next 10 or so tight ends are on fairly level footing. With that in mind, one tight end worth targeting in the double-digit rounds of your draft is Tennessee Titans pass-catcher Delanie Walker.
The 31-year-old tight end is coming off what was by far the best season of his career as he caught 63 passes for 890 yards and four touchdowns despite the Titans’ revolving door at quarterback. He and wide receiver Kendall Wright were the most consistent entities in the offense in 2014, and that should continue to be the case this year.
Walker will have the benefit of a more stable quarterback situation as rookie Marcus Mariota is the unquestioned starter. There are likely to be some growing pains, but Walker has a great deal of confidence in his new signal-caller, according to the Titans official Twitter account:
Young quarterbacks tend to have safety valves in the passing game whom they look toward when things break down around them. For Mariota, it is difficult to imagine anyone other than Walker filling that role.
While Walker generally isn’t a big touchdown producer, that could change depending upon Mariota‘s level of comfort with him in the red zone. What shouldn’t change, though, is Walker’s status as a highly productive tight end, especially in point-per-reception leagues.
Potential Team Names
Rivers Boat Gamblers: Did you listen to my advice and take Philip Rivers as your quarterback? Then celebrate your moxie with a pun-inspired team name.
Age of Latavius: Is pretending like Latavius comes close to rhyming with Aquarius a stretch? Absolutely, but this is a good name. Trust me. Even if you don’t, at least you have Latavius Murray on your team.
Adams Family: If you end up with Davante Adams, then it will be a scary proposition for your opponents. Play up to that by paying homage to the ghoulish Addams Family.
Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter.
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